Industrial Relations in Turkey

Social Dialogue matters

Wikileaks on KESK

Thanks to the famous ‘Cablegate’ of Wikileaks, which published about 250.000 diplomatic correspondences of the US, we can get a unique insight in how the Turkish industrial relations and the Turkish labour organizations are perceived in the eyes of the diplomats. Using the website ‘’, we reviewed all the diplomatic communications regarding Turkish industrial relations issues.


Our third search of the wikileaks cables focused on the leftist public sector labour movement KESK. As KESK members and representatives are regularly subject of governmental and judicial actions, the amount of cables (66) on KESK between 2002 and 2010 is significantly larger than for the other two public service labour confederations. Some of the cables about KESK are even classified as ‘secret’ and contain some remarkable information.

As such, the first report shows that state repression of the government against KESK representatives and members is no illusion. The Ankara Embassy namely reports from a document stating that the then-OHAL governor even orders a governor which doesn’t fall under his jurisdiction to arrest and punish ‘any members of KESK who take part in work stoppages or slowdowns’.

The last cable also reveals how KESK is perceived by the US diplomats. Where it’s mostly framed neutrally as ‘a union’, or a ‘leftist union’, the last cable speaks of the ‘revolutionary labour union’.

Most cables are mere media reports, yet they show the degree in which KESK members and representatives suffer from state interference. Frequently, the media reports declare that KESK members were arrested, offices raided or judicial processes started.


  • November 19, 2002 (Ankara Embassy – SECRET report on Turkey’s emergency regions). According to this document, the OHAL (note: state of emergency regions) governors continue to have great informal power. The note states that: “In a copy of correspondence marked “secret” and dated October 11 which the Diyarbakir Human Rights Association (strictly protect) passed to Poloff, Aydiner (note of the author: Aydiner is the OHAL governor) ordered the Van Governor (who is not under his jurisdiction), along with 11 other governors, to warn, arrest, and punish any members of KESK (the State employees union) who take part in work stoppages or slowdowns.

This note confirms the existence of a state repression and intimidation towards KESK members and representatives.

  • November 26, 2002 (Adana Consulate – Press review): Five Egitim-Sen members (a KESK affiliate) from Diyarbakir were removed from their teaching jobs because they sang Kurdish language songs at the Egitim-Sen congress. Egitim-Sen will appeal the decision.
  • December 2, 2002 (Adana Consulate – Press review): In a anti-war demonstration, a KESK spokesman from Malatya stated that ‘the U.S.’ real purpose was not to destroy weapons in Iraq, but to seize petroleum in that country.’
  • December 3, 2002 (Ankara Embassy – Report on anti-war demonstrations): A anti-war demonstration was organized with the support of Türk-Is, DISK and KESK. The note says literally: “including the country’s three big unions: Turk-Is (the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions), the Confederation of Revolutionary Labor Unions (DISK) and the Confederation of Public Sector Labor Unions (KESK)”, thereby overseeing the existence of the three other big unions of Turkey: Hak-Is, Kamu-Sen & Memur-Sen
  • December 23, 2002 (Adana Consulate – Press review): A KESK spokesperson objects to a possible US intervention in Iraq stating that “People ruling Turkey must under no condition side with the U.S. aggression“, he also demanded the closure of the Incirlik Air Base. KESK president Sami Evren also voiced his opposition to the possible Iraq war.


  • January 9, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review): Various KESK branch presidents voiced their opposition to a war in Iraq, calling for active opposition from laborers to such a war.
  • January 9, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review): In a demonstration anti-government of Egitim-Sen, the Adana president of this KESK-affiliate was threatened by security units that he would be ‘arrested’ and ‘transferred’. Egitim-Sen condemns this ‘verbal assault.
  • January 30, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review): KESK members of a music band were arrested for “assisting and abetting a terror organization (i.e. PKK)” as they gave a concert during an Egitim-Sen congress in Diyarbakir. Although they were acquitted, they were not reinstated.
  • February 3, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review): KESK members called for the payment of their compulsory payroll deductions by the state. They did so by sending a ‘shower of faxes’ to PM Abdullah Gül.
  • February 6, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review): The Diyarbakir National Education Directorate started a investigation against 60 teachers, all members of KESK, as they attended a KESK rally in 2002 in Ankara. The teachers didn’t receive an official permission to travel outside the province.
  • March 28, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review) (2 cables): DISK, KESK, TBB and TMMO called for a work stoppage on March 27 and convene at the Ugur Mumcu square in Adana. They passed by the US consulate shouting “Murderer America, Get Out of Turkey.”
  • May 5, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review): According to reports, the KESK spokesman in Bingol was threatened by the Governer after he applied for permissions to stage a May 1 demonstration. The note says: “After lunch, Bektasoglu was called into the governor’s office. It is claimed that Governor Cos squeezed Bektasoglu’s throat and threatened that he would fill Bektasoglu’s mouth with bullets if he continued engaging in such activities.”
  • June 4, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review): A KESK affiliated union is founded in Sirnak, for the first time after the State of Emergency was lifted.
  • August 20, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review): KESK members protested in Adana & Mersin against the non-payment of salary increases.
  • August 27, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review): As KESK members protested in Adana, unemployed women of 7 criticized them.
  • August 31, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review): KESK members protested in Adana.
  • September 9, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review): Some industrialists accused KESK members of being PKK/KADEK supporters.
  • October 9, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review): The Sirnak KESK representative that villagers should be encouraged to return to their villages.


  • August 20, 2004 (Adana Consulate – Press review): In the aftermath of a PKK attack in Hakkari, a curfew was implemented and police did several searches. Several NGO’s, including KESK requested an appointment with the governer to discuss the issue.
  • December 17, 2004 (Adana Consulate – Press review): As Egitim-Sen officially demands for ‘the right to be educated in one’s mother tongue’, a closure order was filed. Demonstrators protested against this in Adana and Van. Police used gas bombs in Istanbul and detained 50 demonstrators. One of them was Mustafa Avci, secretary general of the KESK union.


  • February 11, 2005 (Adana Consulate – Press review): In Adana, the first ‘Agricultural Workers’ Congress’ was held. According to the Zaman daily, the congress was mostly attended by KESK members and people who were forced to migrate.
  • April 1, 2005 (Adana Consulate – Press review): Several unions and other organizations including KESK are planning a rally on April 3 in Adana against the privatization of several state enterprises, including TEKEL.
  • May 17, 2005 (Adana Consulate – Press review): As KESK organized a convention without a Turkish flag and without playing the national anthem at the beginning of the event; it was criticized by various state officials. DEHAP leader Bakirhan’s speech aroused anger as he ‘used a courtesy title before the name of Ocalan’.
  • June 10, 2005 (Adana Consulate – Press review): In a protest of KESK affiliate Egitim-Sen, protestors chanted pro-Ocalan slogans in Diyarbakir. On a demonstration in Adana, a banner read “Shut down Incirlik Airbase, not Egitim-Sen.”
  • December 9, 2005 (Adana Consulate – Press review): KESK is going to participate in a large press announcement for the World Human Rights Day in Hakkari.
  • December 14, 2005 (Adana Consulate – Press review): KESK members visited Semdinli on December 10 as the World Human Rights Day and the anniversary of the Semdinli bombing fell together.
  • December 15, 2005 (Adana Consulate – Press review): KESK sirnak launched a campaign for the building of universities in the southeastern region.


  • January 30, 2006 (Adana Consulate – Press review): In a TEKEL protest march, KESK, DISK and Kamu-Sen members tried to block a Adana highway. The police intervened and one workers was hospitalized.
  • March 28, 2006 (Adana Consulate – Press review): The governer of Sanliurfa demanded the expulsion of 18 KESK members from their posts as they attended a February 2005 press conference titled “”No to war for global peace.” To date, 14 of these public sector employees have been exiled from their posts.
  • July 13, 2006 (Adana Consulate – Press review): KESK members sent faxes to President Sezer in a call to veto the new anti-terror law.
  • July 20, 2006 (Adana Consulate – Press review): As the new anti-terror bill is passed and a new offensive is in the making against PKK insurgents, KESK president Tombul declared that an ‘operation at Kandil Mountain in northern Iraq would not be the solution to the problem’.
  • August 16, 2006 (Ankara Embassy – Media report): The government started negotiations on pay raises with KESK, Memur-Sen & Kamu-Sen. The unions demand a 10% raise for public employees and a minimum wage above 1000 YTL, coming from 477 YTL.
  • August 21, 2006 (Adana Consulate – Press review): KESK members participated in a press conference against NATO shipments in the Mersin port and against sending troops to Lebanon.
  • August 25, 2006 (Ankara Embassy – Media report): KESK withdraws from collective bargaining talks with the government.
  • September 5, 2006 (Adana Consulate – Press review): KESK spokespersons condemn the bomb attack at the CHP party building of August 25.
  • September 15, 2006 (Adana Consulate – Press review): Both DTP as KESK condemn the Adana bomb attack.
  • September 19, 2006 (Adana Consulate – Press review): KESK members joined demonstrations against the bombing in Diyarbakir.
  • December 15, 2006 (Ankara Embassy – Media report): 250.000 KESK members launched a ‘go slow’ strike. They demand higher wages and better working conditions.


  • January 30, 2007 (Ankara Embassy – Media report): AKP and several NGO’s blame each other for the lack of progress regarding the reform of article 310. KESK said never consulted NGO’s before passing reforms.
  • March 22, 2007 (Adana Consulate – Press review): KESK president attended the Newroz celebrations in Diyarbakir. In Adana, KESK participated in a anti-war rally.
  • August 15, 2007 (Ankara Embassy – Media report): Collective negotiations between KESK and the government are about to start.
  • September 17, 2007 (Adana Consulate – Press review): During Abdullah Gül’s first visit to the southeastern region of Turkey, he did not invite DTP or KESK administrators


  • February 26, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media report): KESK urges the AKP government to withdraw a controversial social security bill.
  • March 11, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media report): Workers of Türk-Is, DISK and KESK are planning a two-hour strike in protest of the draft social security law. The note says: “Turkey’s major labor unions, including Turk-Is, Disk and Kesk”, hereby again ignoring the other three main labour confederations.
  • April 30, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Report on May 1): Although the government doesn’t give permission to the unions to march to the Taksim square on May the 1st, DISK and KESK have issued statements saying they “”are determined to celebrate May Day in Taksim Square“. The AKP government declared May 1 as ‘labor and solidarity day’, but didn’t make it an official national holiday.
  • May 1, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media report): KESK and DISK announced that 500.000 workers would gather at Taksim Square. Abdullah Gul expressed regret about the escalation and announced to ask the government to make May 1 an official holiday.
  • May 6, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media report): In a joint statement, DISK, Turk-Is and KESK announced that they would take legal action against the May 1 incidents.
  • July 16, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media report): KESK and BASK protested the insufficient pay hikes offered by the government.
  • September 15, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Report on the DTP closure case): KESK protested, together with other NGO’s against the closure of DTP. They chanted:”Don’t touch my party; don’t touch my voice in Parliament.”
  • September 15, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media report): A KESK report indicates that a family of four needs 730 YTL a month for food expenses.
  • December 1, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media report): 50.000 demonstrators joined a rally in Ankara, organized by DISK, KESK and some other NGO’s and political parties. They protested the AKP approach to the global financial crisis. As clashes erupted between demonstrators, the police intervened with tear gas and batons, the demonstrators responded with stones.


  • February 13, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Media report): On February 15, workers affiliated to Turk-Is, DISK and KESK labor unions will rally against the ruling AKP government policies in Kadikoy in Istanbul.
  • April 16, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): DISK, KESK and some other professional associations state that they will celebrate May Day on Taksim square.
  • May 29, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): In the context of an anti-PKK operation, the KESK & Egitim-Sen offices were searched by the police.
  • October 27, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Report on public sector strike): KESK and Kamu-Sen announced a public sector ‘warning strike’ on November 25. KESK announces that they expect about 2 million participants. KESK also contacted international union organizations as ITUC & ETUC for support. The reason for the strike is the fact that Turkish legislations prohibits public sector strikes and collective bargaining.
  • November 20, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Report on looming public sector strike): KESK & Kamu-Sen prepare for the November 25 strike.
  • December 1, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Review of public sector strike): The ‘leftist oriented Public Employees Unions Confederation (KESK) president Sami Evren’ participated in the November 25 strike of the public services. Evren demanded the respect for article 90 of the constitution saying that international treaties are supreme over domestic laws. As Turkey signed the ILO treaties, KESK and Kamu-Sen therefore demand the right to strike and to collective bargaining. Further, KESK reports very high participation rates in the strike. As the government started some administrative investigations against strike participants, KESK announces that they will take legal action against any sanctions.


  • January 25, 2010 (Ankara Embassy – Public sector right to strike): Tensions mount again as the government began some procedures against participants of the November 25 2009 public sector strike. KESK threatens with an even bigger strike. Several workers are suspended from ministries and other government agencies. Solidarity messages come from Kamu-Sen and Egitim-Sen, as well as from the MHP.  KESK president Sami Evren stressed that the strike and the protest were legal and that harder action might follow.
  • February 3, 2010 (Ankara Embassy – General strike looms)(3 reports): In the context of the TEKEL conflict, several union confederations, including KESK, are preparing for a ‘one day work stoppage’. A KESK legal advisor said that the government is ‘hostile to the labor sector because it fears that (…) it would set a bad precedent for future privatizations (…)’.
  • February 5, 2010 (Ankara Embassy – Report on the general strike): As two confederations, Memur-Sen & Hak-Is, eventually opted not to participate in the February 4 ‘work stoppage’, the strike only caused minor disruptions. Labor leaders nevertheless pronounced themselves pleased with the outcome.
  • February 11, 2010 (Adana Consulate – Security incident): In a report on the security incidents in Turkey in January, the Adana Consulate reports the following: “Four members of the KESK (Revolutionary Labor Union) are on trial on the charges of “violating restrictions on marches and demonstrations.

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